As we mark Hispanic Heritage Month, we have an important opportunity to celebrate the history, the culture, the traditions and the contributions of the Hispanic population to our nation. And as I reflect on the needs of the U.S. Hispanic community, increased access to health care for Hispanics should be near the top of our list.
A lack of access to quality, affordable health coverage among the Hispanic population has persisted for decades due to challenges we have faced, including language barriers, type of employment and immigration status. The U.S. Hispanic population is 64 million strong — we are the nation’s largest racial or ethnic minority in this country.
We must work collectively with Congress, the White House and the private sector to forge solutions that better meet the needs of these diverse communities where they are. It is time that we, as a nation, prioritize improving health care for our Hispanic friends, neighbors, employees, workers and others.
We well know the important gains in health care access for millions of Americans in the past decade, including for Hispanic individuals, thanks to the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Yet, more than any other racial and ethnic group, Hispanic people continue to face the highest uninsured rate in the nation, at 17.7% — more than twice the national average.
A recent Pew Research Center survey of Hispanic Americans’ experiences with health care found nearly half (49%) reported it’s very or somewhat difficult to fully comprehend the process for getting medical care at hospitals and medical centers.
Further, the survey finds Hispanic adults face communication challenges in health care settings. In fact, just under half say they have a family member or close friend who requires a Spanish-speaking health care provider or translator. A patient’s ability to understand their health care provider is as critical as a health care provider’s ability to understand the medical needs of a patient.
What’s more, the Hispanic population in the U.S. was much more likely than others to have been hospitalized, or even die, due to COVID-19. Millions of Hispanics are uninsured for a number of reasons. Many Hispanic employees in the U.S. are lower-income workers, and many employers offer benefits that lower-income workers choose not to take because these employees cannot afford to have their portion of plan costs deducted from their paychecks.
Even those who can manage the premiums find themselves “functionally uninsured” since they then can’t afford the high deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses that come with “affordable” exchange plans. But rejecting an employer’s benefit offer generally disqualifies workers from receiving Affordable Care Act premium subsidies, and leaves them with no coverage whatsoever.
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The reality is, throughout the United States, people who are uninsured, underinsured or functionally uninsured get sick and get injured — and we all know this is not exclusive to the Hispanic community. Fearing for themselves and their families, they often still require treatment. For the uninsured, that can often result in a trip to a hospital emergency room.
When I came here many years ago as a young political refugee from Cuba, I had a deep sense of gratitude to America for providing our family with a new home in the greatest country on earth. As I reflect on health and legacy at this point in my life, helping millions of Hispanic people in the U.S. who lack quality health care find it is one small way to show my gratitude.
The challenge to improve Hispanic health care access needs full support from our nation’s elected officials. It’s time for Congress and the administration, in addition to the private sector, to propose solutions to this national, solvable Hispanic health crisis.
On the eve of another election year, addressing this core issue of the mighty Hispanic voter bloc is paramount for candidates seeking election or reelection to Congress and the White House. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ first-ever Hispanic Health Summit, in Washington this month, is an important step in convening vital voices to forge tangible solutions. Let’s keep the momentum going.
Al Cardenas is president of VITAL, a new, Hispanic-owned health benefits company that designs affordable health plans for the diverse U.S. Hispanic community.